Eimskip has suspended its feeder service between the ports of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Portland, Maine and Boston.
Jeff Monroe, director of the Port of Portland, said an internal shakeup caused the Icelandic carrier to end the service in December while it was being reviewed, even though it had been building container volumes since it was launched in July.
"Once the word got out that they were going to stop the service, the shippers all decided to jump ship -- literally," Monroe said. "The volumes had been increasing and we were doing quite well."
Eimskip has made no announcement about the end of the service, and calls to its office in Virginia Beach were not returned.
The carrier opened the route in July to replace the service that had been operated by Halship, until the latter's vessel was seized by creditors in 2006. Until then, the weekly Halship service had been carrying about 200 containers a week to and from Portland.
The main customer of the feeder service is Hapag-Lloyd, which calls Halifax as part of the Grand Alliance with Orient Overseas Container Line and NYK Line.
"We are working with several companies and the Port of Halifax to restore the service," said Monroe. "We feel there is enough of a market being shipped based on our talks with shippers."
The end of the Eimskip service has provided a boom in cargo for Columbia Coastal Transport's barge service to Boston. The biweekly service has proven so popular with Maine shippers that it has been carrying triple the amount of cargo it had been handling.
"It's been going through the roof," Monroe said. "We've had a 68-percent increase in the number of containers since last August."
Columbia Coastal is operating the service weekly on occasion to handle the volumes, which have grown to 300-400 containers.
The port has plenty of room to handle more containers because its container yard on the Fore River has more than doubled in size since it took over the adjacent Oceangate berth, after a car ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, moved to a new cruise terminal.
Along with ending the service, Eimskip also has terminated its relationship with some key employees. Russell Herder, who was the line's managing director in Halifax, is no longer with the company. Reynir Gislason, chief executive of Eimskip operations in America, other than cold storage, also is no longer with the company.
Reports indicate Halifax port officials are working behind the scenes to try to find another operator.
Halifax port executives did not immediately return calls seeking comment.